Wednesday, May 07, 2008

He should have stuck to the rough draft

Spotty, are you going to go and see the Declaration of Independence in St. Paul?

Nah. Spot's still kind of annoyed at Thomas Jefferson.


Well, you see there was a compromise made in the language, at the behest of some fundamentalist nuts, probably the Puritans from Massachusetts, that has caused us no end of problems.

Here's the language that Jefferson, child of the Enlightenment, wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men . . .

Notice that nowhere mentioned is a creator; the draft is silent on how men got created. But in the debates, piety snuck in:

As a result, we got this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .

At some point, Jefferson must have thought, "What the hell, it's only a rhetorical flourish. What could it hurt? We're writing to a guy who believes in the divine right of kings anyway."

Jefferson's capitulation on this point has caused unending grief ever since. It is the capstone of the fundamentalist argument that the United States was founded as a religious, and specifically, Christian nation.

It is also fundamental, so to speak, to the notion that U.S. citizens hold their rights as a grant from God, i.e., "natural law." Of course, what God giveth, God can take away. We have an ample supply of preachers who are more than happy to be spokesmen for God on what God wants in this regard.

The fundies insist on calling the Declaration of Independence a "founding document." It is no such thing. It's a Bill of Divorce.

The Constitution is our nation's founding document. The words "God" or "Creator" cannot be found in the Constitution. There are only two references to religion in the Constitution.

The first, in Article Six as Spot recalls, prohibits any religious test or oath for a federal or state office holder.

The other reference is in the First Amendment: the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses.

The Christian nation crowd likes to point to all the acts of reverence and piety undertake in the early years after the Revolution. Did Madison and the other framers just overlook God?

No, of course not. They obviously intended that the Constitution be an entirely positive - as opposed to natural - law document. The alternative would have been to turn every preacher into a law giver. Not very democratic.

It must also be remembered that the framers didn't have to look that far back in their own history and that of Europe to recall the tyranny of the clergy: burning heretics, hanging witches, and slaughter in religious wars.

You get kind of worked up about this, don't you Spot?

Yes, grasshopper, Spot does.

Well, we're going to go see the Declaration of Independence anyway.

It's a free country, grasshopper.

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